Denis O’Dell, the British film producer whose association with The Beatles earned him the rare honor of being mentioned, if obliquely, in one of the group’s songs, died of natural causes at his home in Spain last night. He was 98.
His death was announced to the Associated Press in Lisbon, Portugal, by son Arran O’Dell.
O’Dell had worked on a number of films, including It’s A Wonderful World, Tread Softly Stranger (both 1958) and The Playboy of the Western World (1962) when he signed on as associate producer of A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, beginning an association with The Beatles that would return to public attention with the 2021 Peter Jackson-directed Disney+ documentary series The Beatles: Get Back. (O’Dell is the one who loaned the group Twickenham Studios for their planned TV special.)
Following A Hard Day’s Night, O’Dell worked with John Lennon as an associate producer of 1967’s How I Won The War (in which Lennon co-starred). Also that year, he was a producer of the band’s British TV documentary movie Magical Mystery Tour. In 1969, he produced The Magic Christian, starring Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers.
In The Beatles’ 1970 release “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” – a song recorded in fits and starts over a three-year period by Lennon and Paul McCartney – Lennon jokingly refers to a lounge singer character (voiced by McCartney) by saying, “Let’s hear it for Denis O’Bell!” Despite the spelling disguise, O’Dell, according to Beatles lore, was hounded by fans who did as the song title instructed – searched his name in the phone directory and called him at all hours.
O’Dell later told author Steve Turner, “There were so many of them my wife started going out of her mind. Neither of us knew why this was suddenly happening. Then I happened to be in one Sunday and picked up the phone myself. It was someone on LSD calling from a candle-making factory in Philadelphia and they just kept saying, ‘We know your name and now we’ve got your number.’”
Among his non-Beatles credits, O’Dell was an associate producer of Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968), which featured a cameo by another 1960s rock icon, Janis Joplin, and, in 1976, produced Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
In 1980, O’Dell was an executive producer on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. The infamous flop would be O’Dell’s final producing credit until 2021, when he received a supervising producer credit on Jackson’s documentary series.
O’Dell published his memoir At the Apple’s Core: The Beatles from the Inside in 2003, which detailed, among other adventures, his tenure as head of the band’s Apple Films.
In addition to his son Arran, O’Dell is survived by daughter and film producer Denise O’Dell (Sahara) and grandson and producer Denis Pedregosa (Intergalactic, Black Mirror). A memorial service in the UK will be planned for a later date.